Warehouse B
Staying Useful
Page Two
Page 3

The Word "Retirement" Does Not Belong In Our Language

By James Donahue

It wasn't too long ago . . . in fact most of us can remember when American workers looked forward to retirement. But the fast rising cost of living, the out-of-control cost of health care even for those with insurance, and bad economic times are quickly destroying that utopian dream.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. reveals that nearly 80 percent of all U.S. workers now say they want to work "way past retirement." What is interesting is that the workers are saying this isn't because they need the money, although that probably motivates a lot of them. They just don't feel comfortable moving out of the field of the working class and joining the "old folks" and the changed life style that accompanies being sent out to pasture..

My parents fell into that span of retiring Americans who had great retirement benefits and they found creative ways to use them. Rather than wasting their time basking in the sun in a Florida retirement home they continued living useful lives..

I recall that Dad did not wish to leave his job as a research chemist when he hit that magic age of 65. But company bosses gave him the classic retirement watch, treated him to a retirement dinner, then booted him out the door anyway.

Dad went to work restoring the old buildings on the farm he owned. Here was a 65-year-old man jacking up timbers, and hanging heavy barn doors just to keep himself busy. We all worried that he would give himself a heart attack from all that exertion. I think it was Mom who talked him into signing up for the Peace Corps. There were no openings, or the Peace Corps people were a little too slow at responding to their application, so my parents got involved with Vista instead.Vista was a government program designed to assist the elderly. They were sent out to Iowa to work for two years, then stayed there a third year to train new Vista volunteers.

About the time they left Vista Mom and Dad finally received an invitation to join the Peace Corps and they took it. So the next we knew, they were flying off to the Fiji Islands. There they spent two years teaching school to children of American missionary and other government workers in the field. Dad, of course, taught Chemistry and Mom taught English. On their way back to the states they circled and traveled the world by way of Australia, then north to the Far East, India, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and finally visiting Ireland.

Believe it or not, Dad still wasn't ready to hit the rocking chair after all that. He trained as an income tax consultant and opened an H&R Bloc office in a town some 18 miles away from the farm. He ran that office most of one winter until his car skidded off the road on ice and he started thinking maybe he was getting too old to be driving that much every day.

That next summer on the farm, Dad, now in his 80s, put a new roof on his barn, and expanded his lawn out through a large orchard and even built grassy walking trails out through the woods on his farm, so he had a massive lawn to mow regularly. He had a fine riding lawn mower, of course. He also installed a wood burning furnace and began cutting firewood. He kept a large vegetable garden and generated so much produce, he furnished corn, beans, squash and pumpkins for the whole neighborhood.

While Dad was busy on the farm, Mom also kept busy. When she wasn't keeping house, helping in the garden, canning and stocking food away, she was off to serve with the Grey Ladies, a group of volunteers who worked at the local hospital giving comfort to the patients. I think she belonged to a few other service organizations as well. She also had an intense hobby of exploring family geneology..

My point to this story is that my parents never really retired. They turned their energy into other useful ventures and continued to serve their community as long as they were able. Mom didn't quit until she was hit by a seizure that dropped her in her tracks. Dad continued on until he was 100 before he also passed on.

Growing up with parents like that may help explain my unwillingness to retire, and my attitude about continued service throughout life. While many contemporary "seniors" really need to continue working just to meet the rising cost of living after getting forced into retirement, we might note that formal retirement is a relatively new invention limited to industrialized societies. Elsewhere in the world, there is no such thing as a retirement from the labors of life.

Humans, like all animals of this planet, were never supposed to work like slaves during their best years, then "retire" to an elderly life of leisure and become useless lumps to be cared for by the society from where they sprang. The entire concept flies against all of the rules of nature. The old lions and elephants go off to die when they no longer can compete. There was a practice by one of the Inuit tribes, and probably by many other aboriginal people, that was very similar. Once the tribe member feels he or she is no longer of any value to the tribe, he or she goes off into the wilderness to wait for death.

Because our world is overpopulated and polluted, and because we no longer can produce the resources needed to feed and care for all of the people, we perceive a time in the near future when contemporary societies must consider euthanasia for those who no longer are able to contribute.

The concept of retirement never belonged in society. The very word needs to be stricken from our language as we move forward into a new and more challenging time in which humans may be struggling just to resist a looming extinction.